Former Black VMI Students Describe Racism at the School

More than a dozen Black men who attended Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in the mid-1970s to early 1980s described pervasive and pernicious racism at the school, The Washington Post reported.

Gov. Ralph Northam

Many of them said they are proud of their education at VMI and some do not believe the scrutiny of the school is warranted.

Some felt alienated by VMI’s veneration of the Confederacy and its mandatory traditions honoring cadets who died for the South during the Civil War.

Two described feeling targeted for expulsion by the school’s student-run Honor Court because of their race.

One Black student – in the early 1980s – who was charged by the Honor Court with violating the honor code received two notes at his room that a VMI staff member saved: “Whats better than a Black leaving VMI? One that gets KICKED Out!!! THE CORPS.” And: “Go Home Black BOY!!! The Corps.”

Darren McDew, 60, one of VMI’s most prominent Black alumni and a retired four-star Air Force general, said three of his white classmates had freely used the n-word, “jigaboo” and “spear chucker.”

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam arrived at VMI in 1977 and graduated in 1981. He said he didn’t remember seeing racism aimed at Black cadets but was “sure it happened.”

“I knew the practices of the school were problematic in many ways, but I didn’t realize how bad it still was,” said Northam, who followed his older brother to VMI. When he went there, he said, “I also didn’t understand the real history behind the school’s confederate ties. … I’m not making excuses for myself, but public schools 50 years ago weren’t teaching the truth about these things — why these statues went up when they did, that they were intentionally designed to terrorize and intimidate Black Virginians during the Jim Crow era, that this was about white supremacy and the story of the so-called ‘Lost Cause.’”

Of approximately 380 first-years in August 1977, almost all of them were white. There were only 10 Black first-years pictured in the 1978 yearbook.